Some things a man’s got to do alone. In a female-dominated household this roughly equates to: watching football in solitary confinement, laughing at my own jokes and buying used cars.

The third on that list is little fun and fraught with danger yet, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, tears my soul to shreds. Knowing the emphasis is on you not to screw up, you are aware that if it goes wrong you will likely be up financial poo creek with no paddle, the wife will bring it up each time the new steed is at the mechanics' and you will spend a disproportionate amount of time fantasising about what you would like to do to the seller with a pair of pliers and some dried spaghetti.

Numerous hours are spent on Autotrader and Facebook marketplace where, as with everything else on that god-forsaken website, once the veneer is stripped away from the glossy photos and over exaggerated USPs, the reality is that the date is not as depicted on the picture.

Classic or banger? Brett Ellis muses on the perils of buying a second hand car. PHoto: PIxabay

Classic or banger? Brett Ellis muses on the perils of buying a second hand car. PHoto: PIxabay

You spend hours on the phone and online as you filter out the chaff: looks great but it’s a cat S car; looks awesome but it has driven two and a half million miles, and so on. Anything in ‘London’ or someone ‘selling for a friend’ is quickly discounted, as you draw up a hit list of 10 cars. Four of these won’t pick up the phone, two more sound dodgy, and you do a data check on another to find there are ‘mileage discrepancies'.

Finally, with the short-short list of three, you pack the car with a code reader, some cardboard to lie on, a torch and a few bags of Quavers to starve off the hunger pangs. You locate the seller's house which, inevitably, is the only house in the street without a number, and you form an opinion of the person selling within the first five seconds. Some want to meet you in a car park and spend their time talking to you while multi-tasking as they text, despite claiming not to be a trader. On many an occasion you don’t even get to start the engine up as you notice there is an oil spill the size of the Exxon Valdez underneath or, once you can get the superglued oil cap off, it turns out the head gasket has blown.

Most sellers describe their vehicles as ‘immaculate’, failing to mention the scuffs on the alloys indicating it spends more time being kerbed than driven. And you wonder that if that is the state of the interior, how well maintained the engine is.

Classic or banger? Brett Ellis muses on the perils of buying a second hand car. Photo: PIxabay

Classic or banger? Brett Ellis muses on the perils of buying a second hand car. Photo: PIxabay

Some have the engine running when you get there, and the look of horror on their face is a picture when you turn the engine off and it fails to start again. Others have soaking wet footwells, as if the car has just been for a dip in the Thames, and some smell of animal faeces as you hold your breath during the test drive.

But occasionally, against all hope, you finally find a car that seemingly ticks all the boxes before the fraught process of haggling begins. Not wanting to seem too keen, you tell them you have other cars to see and you'll text them later. You leave it until late on, as you play hardball before offering them well below their over-inflated price. In a similar mindset, they then do the same and leave you checking the phone every five seconds for hours as you await their response. The haggling can go on for days and you pity the EU Brexit negotiators who had to do this for years on end.

Eventually there is an agreement and you traipse into town to attempt to get past the Gestapo on the bank desk as they question your motives for withdrawing a few grand in cash as the seller "doesn't trust bank transfers". You do the deed with the seller and sit in the car for half an hour sorting out insurance, which strangely seems to have inflated since the quote yesterday.

As you drive off you notice the curtains twitch as you wonder if you have indeed bought a turkey, before initiating the windscreen wipers as you attempt to flick on the lights before spending a good 10 minutes at the local Esso trying to work out where the petrol cap switch is.

But then you get home, safe and sound with no issues, and despite the negativity of the situation you get to trust her more before any problems are found. You name her, clean her and she becomes part of the family. Within a few weeks the kids have rubbed jam on the back seat and there is a lolly stick stuck to the back carpet as you field calls about your previous jalopy, which is in serious need of a new home.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher